I entered the Eastern Christian Junior High School on 8th Street in Prospect Park in September, 1968. Yes, even I can do that math quickly. 50 years ago this fairly short, skinny, but still cocky 12 year old went from being a big time 6th grader to being a lowly 7th grader.
One of my first memories upon entering the Junior High was meeting my Homeroom Teacher. Mr. Allan Vander Lugt was an interesting man. I think we were about the same height back then, but he was clearly in control. For two years he was my homeroom and history teacher and I liked him a lot. I can still remember a number of things about Mr. Van. I remember goofy things, like what he ate for lunch from time to time (boiled eggs), his laugh, and what my 8th grade project was about (Aztecs). But what I remember most is Mr. Van’s passion. He loved what he did and he loved his students. And despite my less than best efforts, I learned from him. I learned a lot. In 1970, I left Mr. Van behind and headed to Eastern Christian High School.
My next real contact with Mr. Van was in the 1980’s. My wife began teaching at EC in 1980. Soon after that, she taught 4th grade in Wyckoff Christian School. Al’s wife, Annetta, was teaching 6th grade at that time. Now, when we met at school events our wives were colleagues and Mr. Van was Al. I still found Al captivating and passionate. Just being around him brought back a flood of memories. But when Al retired 29 years ago, I never got around to saying goodbye.
Fast-forward to today. In early May, I learned that Al was turning 90 on the 26th and that he was living in Grand Rapids. I sent him a short note of congratulations and to my delight he called me a few days later. We chatted and Al said he would love to see me. As it turned out, I was headed to Michigan that week and we made plans to meet.
A Leader of Leaders
That same night, there was a meeting of the EC Board of Directors. At that meeting I asked how many had been students in Mr. Van’s class. All but three people in the room raised their hands. Imagine, all but three of our current board members were influenced by Mr. Van. And not only board members, but also our Head of School, Chief Education Officer, Director of The Foundation for ECSA, Assistant Director of The Foundation, Director of Security and Facilities, Director of Transportation, Executive Assistant, Business Office Assistant and many members of the faculty. Mr. Van’s influence on all of us is now influencing a new generation of EC students. It is impossible to tell where Mr. Van’s influence ends.
Two days later, I sat with Al and Annetta in their living room. At his age, there are some health issues that Al has to deal with but he is still the passionate, enthusiastic man I remember. I’ll cherish the time we spent together. I was able to share a photo of Al’s former students now serving in leadership at EC. Al loved that photo. We prayed together and I thanked God for Al and so many other teachers like him that made a significant impact in my life.
If you get the chance, thank a teacher. You won’t regret it and they will deeply appreciate it. The influence of teachers like Al never stops. They have engaged and nurtured thousands of students who are today transforming the world for Jesus Christ.
If you would like to send Al a birthday card, his address is:
Mr. Allan Vander Lugt
2111 Raybrook SE, Apt 4013
Grand Rapids, MI 49546